The hundreds of attacks against Iranian targets and Hezbollah in Syria carried out by the Israel Air Force, are generally considered by pundits to be its most important achievement in the “campaign between the wars.” That is the name of the 21st-century campaign being waged by the Israel Defense Forces and the intelligence community against increasingly powerful enemies, including Iran, Syria and, according to foreign publications, Iraq (in the past similar activity in Sudan was attributed to Israel), and terror organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and ISIS in Syria and, according to the same sources, in Sinai as well.
But no less impressive and important is the considerable experience acquired by the IAF’s pilots and its aerial control, aerial intelligence and electronic warfare systems, in defending and evading the anti-aircraft batteries of the Syrian army.
S-300 and S-400 doesn’t detect stealth jets
Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems are unable to detect Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters flying over Damascus.
The Israeli news outlet NZIV, citing a number of military sources, published the flight route of the Israeli stealth fighters, that struck eastern Syria. As it turned out, the IAF F-35s, not only entered the Syrian airspace, but also flew for almost several hundred kilometers over the area covered by Russian S-400 and Syrian S-300 air defense systems.
Noteworthy also Russian fighters didn’t attempt to intercept Israel’s F-35s. This may suggest that Russian stealth detection systems failed or did not work properly.
According to NZIV another strike carried out by IAF aircraft puts in question the effectiveness of Russian air and missile defense systems since two other Israeli warplanes were able to enter the Syrian air space without any hindrance.
In spite of previously reached agreements between Russia and Israel and because of the recent ramping up of Israeli strikes on Syrian territory, the source claimed that the Syrian military received permission to use its air defense systems in the event of the slightest threat from Israel, provided that the Syrian side bears responsibility for such actions.
“Russia allowed the Syrian military to bring the S-300 to full combat readiness and attack Israeli aircraft in the event of the slightest threat,” the source said.
Information regarding this appeared a day after Israeli F-35 fighter jets struck targets in Syria, completely ignoring Moscow’s position on the issue.
IAF has ramped up its airstrikes on Syrian territory in recent weeks, allegedly targeting Iranian facilities and personnel.
On Sep. 17, 2019 Israel struck positions at the Iraqi-Syrian border near al-Qa’im and al-Bukamal, the second strike within a month on the same allegedly Iranian military base.
The same location was targeted by IAF warplanes on September 8 2020.
After the most recent strike there were no reports of casualties but the September 8 2020 one allegedly killed several service members.
On the very next day, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that Iranian-backed militants had launched attacks on the country from within Syria, potentially being the reason for the strike on al-Bukamal.
S-300 fires missiles, not a single successful
Over the past seven years – the first attack attributed to Israel took place in April 2013 – Syrian anti-aircraft systems have launched a minimum of about 700 missiles at IAF warplanes.
On average, the Syrians have fired about 100 missiles a year at IAF aircraft. This indicates that Syria’s aerial defense forces fire a substantial number of missile barrages at every attacking plane. The arena is not only full of Syrian missiles, but also has crowded skies in which the air forces of the United States, Great Britain and France operate against ISIS, as well as Russian and Turkish aircraft.
These circumstances highlight even further the successful identification, maneuvering, evasion and disruption capabilities of the IAF’s pilots and control systems. Massive Syrian missile fire has enabled the IAF to accumulate greater know how and experience in this field than any other air force in the world, including the U.S. Air Force, which also participates in assault missions in Syria and Iraq. Israel shares its experience and knowledge in this sphere with its counterparts in friendly countries.
It’s true that the Syrian missiles are relatively obsolete and from older generations, but that still does not detract from the impressive capability of the IAF. Its achievements can be attributed to a new combat doctrine developed in recent years, to operational experience, to the introduction in different arenas of stealth aircraft (F-35), but also to the fact that Syria has yet to activate its advanced S-300 batteries.
In September 2018 a Syrian defense battery downed a Russian spy plane en route to the Syrian-Russian base in Latakia. By mistake the Syrians launched missiles just when IAF aircraft were engaged in the area in operational activity. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused Israel of concealing its planes which were not damaged behind the Russian plane and using it as an “aerial shield.”
Although Israel denied the Russian claims, Moscow exploited the incident to enforce a new conflict mechanism between the two air forces, designed to increase coordination and to prevent air battles, as well as the firing of Russian missiles at Israeli planes. Moscow also used the incident as an excuse to supply the Syrian regime with the S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries.
Syrian crews were dispatched to Russia to learn how to operate the new systems. Later Moscow supplied the systems to the Syrian army and they were deployed on its territory. Although some 20 months have elapsed since the incident, not a single missile has as yet been launched from an S-300 battery in Syria at IAF aircraft.
There are three reasons for this: One is that the batteries have been under the total control of Russian advisers and operators, who are in charge of all the buttons.
The second reason is that those advisers are not permitting Assad’s army to launch the missiles. This is yet more evidence of the double game being played by the Kremlin since 2015, when it deployed thousands of Russian troops, aircraft and the most advanced S-400 defense batteries and warships, in an effort to save Assad’s regime.
On one hand, Moscow seeks to stabilize Syria, is assisted by Iran in that effort, cooperates with Assad and with Hezbollah on the tactical level against ISIS and the rebels, and also wants to reduce Israel’s involvement in Syria. But on the other hand, Russia turns a blind eye to attacks by Israel, and in so doing actually tactically encourages the campaigns against Iran. Like Israel, Russia too wants to see Iranian troops, Shi’ite militias and Hezbollah leave Syria.
The third reason why to date the S-300 batteries are not thundering through the skies is the fear in Russia that if they are indeed activated and miss their targets – it would demonstrate the technological and operational superiority of Israel and the West, which would hurt the pride of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country’s defense industries.
According to Kremlin officials, a Russian military transport aircraft was descending to land at the Khmeimim Air Base – located some 25 kilometres from Latakia – as the Israeli strikes took place, hence Syrian air defenses were not activated to repel the attack.
There is no doubt that the Kremlin wants to avoid incidents like the one in 2018 when a Russian reconnaissance plane, returning to Khmeimim with 15 servicemen on board, was mistakenly hit by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow blamed Israel for the incident claiming that Israeli jets put the Russian Il-20 plane into the path of Syrian air defense systems after failing to give Russian command enough warning of a strike on Syrian targets.
There were, however, speculations that the Il-20 was hit by an Israeli F-16 jet, but even if that was the case, the Kremlin never went beyond its usual verbal condemnation of the incident.
How about S-400?
Russia has deployed its most advanced S-400 air defense system to Syria, but the sophisticated weapon does not seem to work against Israeli jets.
It is an open secret that Moscow, an ally of Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad, allows Israel to conduct air strikes against both the Syrian army and Iranian militias operating in the country. Russia’s supremacy over Syria’s airspace helped turn the conflict in Al Assad’s favour, so why does it allow Israel to carry out its operations unimpeded?
On December 28, Israeli warplanes attacked the container complex at the port of Latakia, in a part of Syria where Russia maintains its main naval base. The strikes hit a yard thought to house Iranian weapons shipments. This was Israel’s second attempt to destroy the cargo. The first one took place on December 7 but was apparently less successful than the latest air strike, which caused significant damage.
That night, neither Russia’s S-400 nor Syria’s air defense systems attempted to hit the Israeli planes. The truth is, Russia never activates its air defense systems against Israeli jets.
Such passivity is believed to be part of two reasons: either Russia knows their S-400 can be deceived or jammed through electronic warfare or Russian does not want to engage Israeli fighter jets knowing Israel has the means to retaliate and destroy S-400 missile system which will be a marketing disaster for Russian defense Industries.
The tragic event did not have an impact on relations between Russia and Israel. Although the Russian military operating in Syria has the power to prevent Israel from hitting Iranian and Syrian targets, Russia constantly turns a blind eye to Israel’s activity in Syria.
The attack on Latakia port was no exception. For Assad and the Iranians, the Kremlin acts as an unreliable ally and partner. In 2010 Moscow refused to sell S-300 air defense systems to Tehran, bending to pressure from the United States and Israel. In 2019, Russia again rejected an Iranian request to buy S-400 systems, concerned that the sale would “stoke more tension in the Middle East.”
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